The Tell-Tale Heart

This study guide will help you analyse the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will summarise the text and focus on structure, themes, setting, narration, and characterisation, as well as help you put the text into perspective.

Presentation of the text

Title: “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843)
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
Genre: Short story

Edgar Allan Poe​ (1809-1849) was an American writer. His poems and short stories deal with macabre themes, horror, thriller, and mystery. The short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” was first published in 1843 in The Pioneer: A Literary and Critical Magazine.

The version of the text used in this study guide is from the anthology Wider Contexts, pp. 154-160, Gyldendal, Copenhagen 2012.


Below, you can read a short extract from the study guide:


The title of the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe has both a literal and a symbolic meaning.

In the literal sense, the title reflects how the sound of a beating heart makes the narrator confess his crime. “Tell-tale” as an adjective means something that indicates or gives evidence of a certain thing. Therefore, the beating heart indicates the murder of the old man and drives the narrator to provide evidence of his guilt.

In the symbolic sense, the tell-tale heart reflects the guilty conscience of the narrator. The narrator begins hearing the sound of a beating heart right before he commits the murder: “there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart” (p. 156, ll. 28-30). The narrator gets infuriated and scared by hearing this sound, as his fixation with the man’s eye makes him overlook his guilt.

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The Tell-Tale Heart

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